The Playlist:

Listen to the Mockingbird - Richard Milburn (circa 1855) - see note 1

The Princeton Gallopade - Francis Johnson (1843) see note 2

The Philadelphia Serenading Grand March - James Hemmenway (1826-1830)

Johnson’s Dream Waltz -Francis Johnson (1826) - see note 3

The Victoria Gallop - Francis Johnson (1839) - see note 4

The Davis Quickstep - Isaac Hazzard (1843)

The Grave of a Slave - Francis Johnson (circa 1831) - see note 5

Philadelphia Hop Waltz - James Hemmenway (1840) see note 6

The Hunter Hop Waltz - James Hemmenway (1819)

Listen to the Mockingbird reprise


 

Notes on several of the pieces:

Note 1: Listen to the Mockingbird was written by an African-American Philadelphia street musician named Richard Milburn, who was a part-time employee of Septimus Winner in his general store that also published and sold music.

 

In 1855, Winner published the song "Listen to the Mockingbird" under the Alice Hawthorne name. According to sources, he had arranged and added words to a tune by “a local singer/guitarist Richard Milburn, an employee, whom he credited.” Winner later sold the rights, reputedly for five dollars, and subsequent publications omitted Milburn's name from the credits. The song was indeed a winner, selling about 15 million copies in the United States alone.

 

It is a good guess that Milburn wrote the words, too, but probably could neither read nor write, so Winner contracted with him to publish the piece for the princely sum of twenty copies of the printed music.

 

Arranger’s note: I threw in the brief "America" mini-quote at the beginning in the 2nd trumpet part as a reminder that these were all American composers, and that this is an American suite.

 

I also inserted the brief mini-quote of a Stephen Foster melody a few measures later -- a reminder that in this era the intellectual property of musicians (both black and white) were often stolen outright or bought at a pittance. I personally owned a published set of compositions by the Christy Minstrels that included several Stephen Foster songs (without a mention of his name).

 

Note 2: written for the inauguration of the S.S. Princeton

 

Note 3: Who knows what Francis Johnson’s dream might have been to inspire this waltz, or why there is the poignant change of mood and switch to the minor mode in the trio.

 

Note 4: The Victoria Gallop was written to honor Queen Victoria, for whom he played in his celebrated European tour of 1837-1838 shortly before her coronation. She was so taken that she presented him with a silver keyed bugle (on which he was a virtuoso performer); that instrument is very likely the one which appears in his photograph, and was buried with him.

 

This piece includes evidence that Johnson was also familiar with the new instrument which eventually displaced the keyed bugle. The middle section is noted to be played on “cornet a piston.”

 

And although the tempo in this arrangement is rather brisk, the term “gallop” did not refer to speed, but rather to a dance which utilized a side-skip gait as the primary step.

 

Note 5: The Grave of a Slave is one of Johnson’s very few politically-oriented pieces, and one of his very few (maybe only?) vocal works. The publication’s frontispiece lists the poem’s author only as “A Lady of Philadelphia.” Further research reveals that she was one Sarah Forten, member of an affluent African-American family in Philadelphia who was a well-known abolitionist - a member of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. One can only conjecture at their relationship and why she was not directly credited in the publication.

 

Oddly, the piece was not composed as an art song (as most poems-turned-songs are), but rather like a solo hymn - with all four verses accompanied by the same music.

 

Note 6: A word might need to be said about pieces with “waltz” in their titles, but written in 2/4 time. The waltz as we know it (partners facing one another, bodies in contact, music in 3/4 time) was not brought to the United States until the mid-1830’s (Johnson’s band, in fact, being one of the groups that was an important part of that immigration). Before that time, and for some period of time after, any dance step that included a turn while stepping was called a “waltz step.” There were many dance pieces in all the usual time signatures written with “waltz” in the title to reflect this.

 

A “hop waltz” is a dance - usually in duple meter- that includes a hop while executing a turn (think: “waltz jump” in modern skater’s parlance).

 

The Composers:

Richard Milburn (1817-18??) As a street musician, almost nothing is known of Milburn, other than his association with Septimus Winner (see notes on the pieces themselves).

 

Francis “Frank” Johnson (1792-1844) was a bandleader/composer giants of his day. There is some question as to his birthplace, but at least at a young age he was in Philadelphia, which remained his home for the rest of his life. He was a virtuoso on both the violin and the keyed bugle (the so-called Kent bugle for which both Hummel and Haydn wrote their concerti, invented only eight years before some of his celebrated performances in 1818). Johnson formed a band which eventually became “the darling of Philadelphia’s social set,” according to one source.

 

Johnson’s earliest publication was “A Collection of New Cotillins [sic], 1st Sett” (1818), and with its appearance, he became the first published African American composer. Over 250 of Johnson’s compositions were published during succeeding decades, and copies for most of these have survived.

 

Johnson's personal fame grew as his band became more and more famous, but also when, in 1824, he composed much of the music to be played at ceremonies honoring Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette upon his return to the United States.

Even while his fame spread, Johnson continued to teach music to white and blacks in his three-story Philadelphia studio near 11th and Lombard Streets.

Johnson led his band in the Philadelphia area at a time when very few people could sustain themselves as professional musicians. Johnson's band, for a number of years composed entirely of African Americans, played solely for the black community when it began. After a few years, however, Johnson's band received work from prominent white socialites to perform at some of the fanciest and most impressive Philadelphia-area social gatherings. Johnson's band gained some national recognition when it became associated with all white militia units and began to play concerts at the Summer Resort at Saratoga Springs, the same resort the Philadelphia Orchestra has spent its summers for many years. The band was composed of musicians who were well-known in their own right.

In 1837 Johnson announced that he and a small contingent of his band members were departing for Europe to "improve his musical capacity and knowledge, so as to be able in a much greater degree than formerly to contribute to the gratification of the public."

In November of 1837, he took William Appo (Johnson's brother-in-law), Aaron J. R. Connor, Edwin Roland, and Francis V. Seymour, and probably James  Hemmmenway to London as the first Black American musicians (and the first of any American “bands,” Black or White) to visit Europe and to the royal court at Buckingham Palace to play for Victoria (1838), soon to be crowned Queen of England.

The musicians remained in Europe until the winter of 1938, acquiring music, studying continental styles and presenting concerts (another “first”) in Europe:

Upon their return they promptly introduced Johnson's tremendously successful Promenade Concerts a la Musard, forerunners of the modern "pops" concerts. Prominent White performers were later included in these programs, some of the first interracial performances in America. These included waltzes by Johann Strauss and a style of music which developed into what is now known as the very popular classical "pops" style. Johnson also incorporated white musicians into his band, leading to some of the first interracial musical performances in the United States.

In 1842 Johnson provided the music for a ball in honor of the visiting English author Charles Dickens.

His band tours (1839-1844) took him as far north as Toronto, as far west as St. Louis. They also performed in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Cleveland, and Louisville. He frequently included works by Haydn and Handel in his concert fare, along with his own compositions (largely marches and dance pieces such as quadrilles, cottillions, waltzes, gallops, quicksteps, and polkas). As free Blacks, Johnson and his band members found themselves unwelcome in Missouri, which had entered the Union as a slave state.

After his death, the band remained active for another twenty-odd years under the direction of band member Joseph Anderson who hired several New york composers to update the music periodically. The band finally ceased operations during the Civil War.

James Hemmenway (1800-1849) composer and band leader, was born in Philadelphia and led a successful musical career there as one of the first generation of African-American musicians in the United States. Hemmenway performed for a time as a member of Frank Johnson's popular band, and was one of the select musicians Johnson took with him to England in 1837. Several of those musicians went on to form their own bands and to also become composers, Hemmenway being one. Others of note (but not included in this piece) are Aaron J. R. Connor and William Appo.

 

Eventually his own band was in competition with Johnson's ensemble. In 1824 Hemmenway's band was one of the groups that performed at the festivities held in honor of General Lafayette's return to Philadelphia. Hemmenway's band performed at many other functions in the city, including concerts of sacred music at local African-American churches. The band had a permanent home at Washington Hall, located at Third Street near Spruce Street.

 

 

Isaac Hazzard (ca. 1800-1804? - 1865) Like Hemmenway, Hazzard was another of the Philadelphia bandleader/composers active in the first half of the nineteenth century. Little is known of Hazzard’s life outside his competition with Francis Johnson’s band; he must have been extraordinarily talented, however, as he was quite young when he published his first work shortly after Johnson in 1819.

 

Most historians believe that he and Johnson had no direct connection; one, however, presents evidence that Hazzard was “one of Johnson’s ‘break-away’ musicians; one who took several of Johnson’s pieces with him and presented them as his own when he left the band, declaring himself to be a ‘professor of music’ in his fliers listing some of those works.’”

 

In any event, he was a highly successful and much sought-after bandleader in Philadelphia, competing directly with Johnson in all phases of social musical life -- he did not, however, present concerts.



 

Rudy Volkmann, DMA

11/18/2015